Shaving Across Genders

The debate on beauty products for different genders still exists, with several questions surrounding it: Does skin have a gender? Is it necessary to have gendered products? If so, why is there a price gap between these types of products geared towards different genders? Amaan Akhtar’s article will address these questions, by focusing on a specific area of beauty - shaving.

If you’ve ever had a shaving experience, you’ll be familiar with the gendered products stacked amid the beauty aisles –you inevitably come across a wide variety of shaving creams, foams and razors to suit your needs. Yet, strangely there is a stark contrast in packaging and product information advertised for each gender. However, what is even more daunting is the huge price gap between cis-gendered products.

But is there any justified reason for cis-gendered products and the “pink tax”?

Well, it depends on the perspective. We must consider whether any physiological differences exist in skin across genders that explain the reasoning behind this type of marketing, and whether it justifies the difference in pricing between gendered products (also known as the ‘pink tax’) – where female personal care products have at least a 13% price increase.

In terms of physiological differences, current research suggests that male skin does differ from females: it is oilier, hairier, thicker and ages differently. This is due to two different mechanisms – hormone levels and sebaceous glands. The former is a crucial factor since androgens (a male hormone) stimulate the growth of facial hair and body hair in both genders. Typically, higher androgen levels cause an increased development of thicker hair and amount of hair present on the body, which is why women usually have less body hair overall. Furthermore, this thicker hair is more difficult to remove when shaving, and its regrowth is more noticeable.

Secondly, men’s skin has more active sebaceous glands, which release more sebum content on the skin’s surface - producing excess oil that causes shinier skin. Men’s hair is more naturally conditioned than women’s. Therefore, many men’s skin formulas and shaving creams/foams have oil-absorbing agents. Also, due to the thickness of male skin these products have ingredients which make them lighter and better for skin absorption. Although sebaceous glands produce less oil over time with age (in all genders), the levels commonly drop further for women than men.

While this provides some reasoning for the marketing of cis-gendered products, there is something else to point out – everyone’s skin is different. When it comes to our skin, every individual has their own specific needs.While we all have shared skin issues associated with dehydration, sensitivity and ageing, we each experience these individually at varying levels. And this can drastically change your decision on which shaving and skincare products to buy for your needs, regardless of gender.

Regarding the pink tax itself, most shaving creams/foams work in similar ways on the skin. Their base ingredients primarily consist of moisturizers, softeners and chemical cleansers – but as cis-gendered products, they are surprisingly almost identical. The only difference is the fragrance and packaging of the product tailored to their market audience. If this difference in aesthetics is the sole reason for varied prices, then this is a ridiculous justification. No one should have to pay different costs for a shaving cream/foam that is either white with an outdoor “natural smell”, or a very colourful product with a floral/fruity aroma.

Now, let us consider the razor: many shaving companies produce two versions of a product marketed for each cis-gender, however the pricing of the female razor is higher. For majority of consumers, the only notable differences are the colour and packaging. But let’s delve into it further – concerning razor blades themselves, no brand claims to use different designed blades for each gendered product. Major manufacturers use the same metallurgy in both razor lines, where the blade’s quality commonly differs between brands. 

However, when it comes to the razors’ design, manufacturers provide three main differences between the cis-gendered products to justify the pricing: the shave angle, razor head arc, and the frequency of consumer shaving.

A male razor has a greater oblique shaving angle, giving it more aggressive exposure to facial hair. Additionally, their razor head is designed smaller around tightly-packed blades to produce more precise facial grooming - because facial hair is normally thick, dense and very tough, appearing on a smaller surface area (the cheeks and neck) with sharper contours. This means it requires more effort to cut, compared to other body areas. Therefore, a razor design which provides a lot of blade-skin contact, can cut well and be durable for longer.

In contrast, a female razor has a different angle and contour of handle, where the head is more rounded and larger. The addition of a guide bar device around the blades helps cut longer, finer body hair correctly – found sparsely on larger skin surface areas such as the legs, where the skin is relatively broad and flat. This design allows someone to see their skin more clearly on these body areas, while also increasing efficiency when cutting body hair. Furthermore, the razor’s grip position makes it convenient for use on the entire body. 

Overall, these cis-gendered razors are designed to focus on specific areas of the body. Both designs account for the different techniques used for shaving different body areas,especially since skin varies in sensitivity and direction of hair growth.

While this makes sense, does it really justify the 11% increase in price for female razors?

Manufacturers think so – they assume that because women tend to shave body areas such as the armpits or legs, and don’t shave as often as men do. Also, body hair grows back slower compared to facial hair, hence the frequency of shaving is less – so, cis-gendered razors designed for parts other than the face tend to sell fewer units. While male razors sell in higher quantities to meet the demand of everyday facial shaving. To counteract this drop in sales for female shaving products, brands raise these prices significantly higher.

Truthfully, these subtle differences in design between cis-gendered razors offer no real validation for this price inflation.

While these razors may affect your shaving experience depending on what you’re shaving, the choice mainly lies with personal preference and shaving technique as opposed to how you identify yourself.

The changing attitude to grooming has led to a lot of people using cis-gendered shaving products interchangeably. For instance, within the transgender community the consensus seems to be that male razors are ideal for facial hair and female razors are best suited for shaving the body. Which highlights that these cis-gendered products are picked primarily for the area being shaved rather than the gender they’re marketed for.

Unisex products such as razors are gradually becoming available to purchase online.Additionally, the focus on grooming has shifted from hair-free to “hair maintenance”, regardless of gender – where many opt to trim and style both their facial and body hair. Although some retailers are shifting their stance towards equal pricing for cis-gendered shaving products, maybe we should consider the promotion of gender-neutral products instead.

At least we can then eliminate this incessant production of cis-gendered products and focus on just making merchandise that is marketed exclusively on function, instead of its appearance and appeal towards a certain gender.